Film Review – ‘Darkest Hour’ (2018)

Winston Churchill once said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Without a doubt, this quote relays towards Gary Oldman’s failed streak of Oscar wins. It is impressive to see he never loses the enthusiasm or passion when the fire within him is ignited. Playing George Smiley was one of the finest character driven performances of his career and sadly Oldman lost out to Uncle Oscar. Nonetheless, playing Winston Churchill is a perfect example of upping his ante, thus an Oscar nomination is inevitable. The win is highly possible and if it happens, it demonstrates that playing a real-life Prime Minister has its perks. E.G. Meryl playing Margaret.

Oldman’s talent lies in playing real-life characters. Sid Vicious was an outstanding performance, although it’s well known Oldman is least proud of this enactment. Lee Harvey Oswald was highly iconic yet ironic, considering a cockney geezer from South London would play one of America’s controversial figures. Now, playing Churchill is his definitive real life performance as the audience can tell Oldman has simply done his homework. The mannerisms, the mumbling, the movement is magnificent.

During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds. The film glamorizes Churchill’s legacy and implies how he was a fighter. The audience who are unaware of this historical figure will learn that Churchill never gave up and stuck to his guns, despite strong advice from his comrades to negotiate with Hitler.

The viewer will then support Churchill as he had a backbone and listened to the public’s opinions rather than his advisors. Some scenes may be exaggerated and dramatized as Oldman takes his character in the London underground where the public members of the tube are in awe of their Prime Minister commuting to Westminster. He asks their views on what he should do. The fact that he listened to them accentuates he was a humble servant for the people and that is what makes him an admirable prime minister.
Darkest Hour can be appreciated as it can be seen as a blood relative to last summer’s blockbuster ‘Dunkirk,’ also in the run for the Oscars. ‘Dunkirk’ shows the battle whereas; ‘Darkest Hour’ shows the background of the battle. To see how Churchill organised this atrocity, he did it with good intentions which were to win a war and the outcome speaks for itself. We finally prevailed due to his brash decisions.
On the other hand, the subplot of Churchill’s relationship with his secretary is feeble due to it being underdeveloped. Sadly Lily James has taken a step back from her choice of roles as it’s not captivating enough to see her type whilst Churchill delivers the mumbling words for his speech. It doesn’t build up to anything essential and to see her try to motivate him with his speech block could have been written more powerfully. Furthermore, it would have been nice for Lily James’s Elizabeth Layton to inspire him or bring the best out in him, which unfortunately lacks in this segment. The supporting cast is the run-of-the-mill as it would be nice to also see Kristen Scott Thomas’s Clementine Churchill be on par with how Adrian completes Rocky, ‘British style.’ The motivating wife routine is not felt here. However, it’s nice to see Ben Mendelsohn take advantage of his success from last year’s ‘Rogue One.’ His performance of King George VI is accurate and loyal due to the chain-smoking and stuttering. Oldman spars well in dialogue with Mendelsohn as the scenes look authentic and it’s like as if the audience is eavesdropping on the King and Prime Minister’s banter.

Overall ‘Darkest Hour’s strength lies within Oldman’s flawless performance. The climax of the film builds to a powerful dramatic monologue delivered in The House of Commons with the Hollywood feel of a dramatic score. The viewer cannot help but be enthused by Oldman’s speech. But as Churchill once said, “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.” Gary Oldman will grab your interest and hopefully an Oscar. Gary Oldman/ James Franco, may the best man win.

Aly Lalji | [rating=3]

History, Drama, Biography | UK, 2017 | 12A | 12th January 2018 (UK) | Dir: Joe Wright |Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Ronald Pickup, Pip Torrens